Rockford alderman Ann Thompson owns a cleaning service. That, in itself, is not surprising; while Rockford aldermen receive some benefits that are traditionally reserved to full-time employees (such as health insurance), they are paid a part-time stipend, and only those who are retired or independently wealthy could afford not to have another job.
For months now, Alderman Thompson has been the chief proponent of a “diversity-procurement policy” for city contracts—what used to be called, in a less politically correct day, “minority set-asides.” (Today, no one wants to set aside minorities; but who doesn’t want to procure some diversity, which we’ve been assured is the spice of life?) Her advocacy, too, is not surprising: In addition to being a woman, Alderman Thompson is a Democrat and black. Of course, to be completely fair, the policy, as the Rockford Register Star notes, “enjoys unanimous support on the council and with Mayor Larry Morrissey.” (Only 8 of the 14 aldermen are Democrats; 11 are white; and 11 are male. Mayor Morrissey is a white male independent.) The only debate has been whether the policy should set “goals” to award 25 percent of contracts to minority-owned firms and 5 percent to firms owned by women, as Alderman Thompson wanted, or whether it should avoid numbers and simply direct the city to award more contracts to such firms, as Alderman Pat Curran, a white male Republican, would prefer.
What is surprising is that Curran’s version of the proposed policy is the one that the council ultimately passed on June 23. And Rockfordians have Alderman Thompson to thank. Unwittingly, she has exposed the sordid reality of such policies and put local politicians who support them in a rather awkward position.
In 2005, Alderman Thompson’s company, Galaxy Cleaning, won a $526,000 contract to deliver ready-mix concrete for use in the construction of the new, $140-million Winnebago County Jail, even though, it appears from a later interview on local talk-radio station WNTA, she doesn’t know the difference between cement and concrete. Thompson herself admitted to the Rockford Register Star that “It was just a matter of processing paperwork”; the concrete was furnished and delivered by non-minority-owned Meyer Material, and neither Thompson nor any of her employees were even present at its delivery. The alderman won’t say how much money she made by acting as a middleman in order to satisfy a Winnebago County goal to have ten-percent minority participation in the project.
Everyone—including (perhaps especially) the supporters of such policies—knows that Alderman Thompson’s case is far from exceptional. Years ago, when such policies were just coming into vogue, every conservative magazine under the sun (and many mainstream newspapers) ran stories exposing how such policies allowed unscrupulous businessmen to game the system by establishing “minority-owned” or “women-owned” firms whose entire purpose was to snag contracts that the white businessmen could not get themselves (or could only get by submitting a significantly lower bid than that presented by a “minority-owned” firm). The fact that Galaxy Cleaning is not merely a front group but an actual minority-owned business is not a substantive difference.
What is different today is that the “conservative” Republicans who, in the past, opposed such policies are now almost fully on board. From Alderman Curran to Winnebago County board chairman Scott Christiansen and state’s attorney Paul Logli (who both claimed that Thompson had done nothing wrong) to Sjostrom & Sons (longtime contributors to Republican candidates in Winnebago County and throughout Illinois), the jail contractor who awarded Thompson the contract, there are more Republicans involved in this sordid little story than there are Democrats. Perhaps that’s because, as the “party of business,” they know that—as long as you know how to play the game—there’s always money to be made off of even the most radically leftist government policy.
And radical leftism is precisely what this is. Let’s drop the euphemisms: This isn’t about setting aside a share of the American Dream for minorities or procuring diversity in a field (construction) that has traditionally been dominated by white males. This is socialism with a human face. It goes beyond even the soft-socialist idea of “equality of opportunity”; these policies aim at equality of outcome—and, in some ways, they go beyond even that. In the United States today, a legitimate minority-owned concrete supplier who submitted a competitive bid for the contract that Alderman Thompson “won” would, even without such a policy in place, likely have a better than average chance of winning the contract. All else being equal, given the choice between awarding the contract to a minority-owned firm or a “majority-owned” one, how many government agencies would choose the latter?
In a better time, the fact that an alderman was advocating a policy that stood directly to benefit a business that she owned would be scandal enough to force her resignation from office. Today, however, Thompson’s fellow black Democratic alderman Linda McNeely greeted the passage of Curran’s version of the policy by urging minorities in Rockford to “do it. All of you. Become middlemen. You have to do what you have to do.”
Moreover, Alderman Thompson is defended by prominent members of the (supposedly) opposite political party, and she’s showing no signs of remorse. At the very least, the taxpayers of Winnebago County should demand that she return whatever profit Galaxy Cleaning made acting as a middleman in this deal, because, morally, every penny that she made beyond what Meyer Materials would have received if it had won the contract directly was stolen from them.
I won’t hold my breath. I will, however, thank Alderman Thompson for doing her best to slow the city of Rockford’s progress down the primrose path of socialism.